Civil Society Conflict Human Rights Iran Middle East Resilience & Society
IranSource March 21, 2024

It’s morally imperative that the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Iran be extended. Here’s why.

By Rose Parris Richter and Azadeh Pourzand

Following the killing of Mahsa Jina Amini in September 2022, the world witnessed unprecedented protests across Iran. Citizens from diverse backgrounds joined in solidarity, challenging the status quo, and demanding answers about and accountability for Amini’s death. As the weeks passed, streets across cities echoed with the voices of defiance as demonstrators courageously faced the harsh crackdowns inflicted by security forces. They rallied against gender persecution, the state’s woeful disregard for the right to life, and its draconian grip on every facet of Iranian existence—the essence of the de facto protest slogan: women, life, freedom.

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) response to allegations of rights abuses emerging from the country less than two months into the protests, the forming of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran (FFMI) in November 2022, marked a significant step towards holding violators accountable and providing a voice to those silenced by the government. The council tasked the FFMI to specifically investigate allegations of human rights abuses perpetuated during protests that escalated following Amini’s death by examining evidence and documenting potential human rights violations to ensure accountability.

On March 18, the FFMI presented its current findings, revealing the extent of the atrocities and confirming fears that these were not isolated incidents but crimes against humanity executed under a veil of impunity at the highest levels of the Iranian state. The FFMI’s investigations revealed that Amini’s arrest was not only arbitrary but also led to her death due to physical violence while in custody. This pointed to a clear violation of her right to liberty and personal security, squarely placing the responsibility on the state for her demise. The authorities’ failure to conduct a timely, effective, and transparent investigation into Amini’s death, coupled with their concerted efforts to distort the truth, further underscored the systemic disregard for international human rights norms.

With 551 confirmed deaths and countless crimes, the FFMI’s report revealed systematic rights violations of liberty and physical security, painting a stark picture of indiscriminate arrests and detentions. The comprehensive suppression extended to extreme measures, including the torturing of protesters being held in detention facilities where acts of barbarity indicative of systematic abuse were sanctioned at the highest levels. Amidst this grim scenario, gender persecution stood out, with Iran targeting women, girls, and gender equality advocates, constituting a particularly vile form of these crimes and abuses. The harrowing accounts of sexual and gender-based violence being wielded as tools of repression illustrate a chilling disregard for human dignity and fundamental rights. Such practices, especially the targeted abuse of children and vulnerable groups like LGBTQI individuals, further highlight the government’s exploitation of societal prejudices to compound the suffering of its victims. Additionally, the FFMI’s report underlines that a significant number of these atrocities occurred in regions predominantly inhabited by ethnic and religious minorities, thus highlighting the disproportionate impact on these communities.


Further to this, investigators established that executions of several protesters following summary proceedings without fair trial and due process guarantees violated the prohibition against torture and ill-treatment and amount to unlawful and arbitrary deprivation of their right to life. They concluded that prosecutors and judges, “particularly in the revolutionary courts,” were responsible for myriad violations, including prosecutions for violations of discriminatory laws, in particular mandatory hijab laws, the conviction of protesters on vaguely formulated charges, and sentences to corporal punishments (lashings) and death for acts not considered to be either crimes or capital offenses under international law. The absence of fair trial guarantees—including the right to defense, the right to be heard by an impartial tribunal, and the prohibition of the use of coerced confessions—reveals a legal system weaponized against perceived enemies of the state. Furthermore, the treatment of these individuals before their executions, marked by documented cases of torture and denial of access to family or legal representation, exacerbates the gravity of these human rights abuses. Additionally, the FFMI’s revelations about the state’s actions to obscure the truth, intimidate and punish defense lawyers, and unjustly target journalists and media workers also underscore a deliberate strategy to suppress dissent and silence any voices that dare to speak out against the government’s conduct.           

The FFMI explicitly links serious human rights violations to specific state institutions and actors, deepening the accountability landscape within Iran’s governmental structure. It asserts that “various branches of the [s]tate’s security forces participated in the unnecessary and disproportionate use of force, resulting in unlawful killings and injuries, most notably by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Basij forces, and the Law Enforcement Command of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Faraja), including its special forces (yegan-e vijeh).” Notably, the FFMI also confirms that high-level authorities “encouraged, sanctioned, and endorsed violations of human rights” through statements justifying the acts and conduct of the security forces engaged in a disinformation campaign” against protesters. They find that “authorities at the highest level of the [s]tate participated in, aided and abetted, or otherwise contributed to the violations, or knew or consciously disregarded information about their commission and failed to prevent and punish them”: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, senior members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, of the Basij forces, of the Law Enforcement Command of the Islamic Republic of Iran, of the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the head of the judiciary, and many others.  

This damning indictment against such a broad swath of Iran’s security apparatus and judicial system underscores the systemic nature of the human rights abuses reported. By detailing the specific roles played by various state institutions and actors, the FFMI highlights the widespread and coordinated efforts to crush dissent and spread fear among the populace. The clarity with which the FFMI outlines the direct involvement of security forces and intelligence agencies in human rights violations signals an unambiguous call for accountability, emphasizing the need for a global response to address these grave breaches of international law.

While these revelations are critical, they represent only the surface of a deep-seated crisis that continues to unravel. However, the FFMI’s current findings are merely the inception of a long, intricate justice and reform process. The council is now faced with a pivotal decision—whether or not to extend the FFMI’s mandate for an additional year.

The case for extension

The need for the FFMI’s mandate to be extended for an additional year lies in the gravity and scope of these findings and the ongoing and escalating atrocities documented since the initial report. With human rights violations persisting unabated, the extension is imperative for several reasons:

  • Sustained documentation and accountability: An extended mandate would enable the FFMI to continue systematically establishing the facts about the events that took place during the surge of protests that unfolded in 2022, reinforcing the international community’s commitment to accountability and justice.
  • Comprehensive investigation: With more time, the FFMI can conduct further in-depth investigations, particularly into events that have occurred beyond the scope of the initial report. A detailed and comprehensive understanding is crucial for formulating effective international responses and support mechanisms for the victims.
  • Engagement with a broader stakeholder base: Extending the mandate would allow the FFMI to engage with a wider range of stakeholders, including civil society organizations, victims and their families, and defectors. This would ensure a more inclusive and accurate portrayal of the violations and their impact.
  • Overcoming challenges: The FFMI’s work has been hampered by challenges in accessing information and a lack of cooperation from the Iranian government. An additional year could provide strategic avenues to overcome these obstacles, possibly opening new channels for dialogue and investigation.
  • Global human rights commitment: Extending the FFMI’s mandate affirms the global commitment to human rights. It sends a clear message that the international community stands in solidarity with the victims and will persist in holding perpetrators accountable.

Critics of the FFMI’s extension might cite financial constraints, diplomatic tensions, or potential infringements on sovereignty. However, these arguments falter when weighed against the imperative of upholding fundamental human rights and ensuring accountability for crimes against humanity. The cost of inaction—measured in human lives and the erosion of international legal norms—far exceeds the logistical and diplomatic challenges presented.

The FFMI’s groundbreaking work has peeled back the layers of repression and impunity that have long shielded perpetrators of human rights violations in Iran. Extending its mandate is not just a strategic necessity but a moral imperative. In the face of systemic injustice, the international community must reaffirm its commitment to human rights, justice, and accountability. The victims of Iran’s oppressive government deserve no less than a concerted effort to continue the pursuit of justice, leveraging every tool at our disposal to ensure their stories are told, their dignity restored, and their oppressors held to account.

Rose Parris Richter is the executive director of Impact Iran, a coalition of nineteen human rights organizations committed to advocating for human rights in the country.

Azadeh Pourzand is the spokesperson and community director of Impact Iran, a coalition of nineteen human rights organizations committed to advocating for human rights in the country.

Image: EDMONTON, CANADA - JANUARY 27, 2024: Members of the Iranian diaspora and activists gather in Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park during the 'United Against Executions in Iran' protest, condemning the increase in death sentences by the rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran, on January 27, 2024, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In 2023, Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRANA), a non-political and nongovernmental organization dedicated to defending human rights, reported that at least 746 people were executed in Iran. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto)